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The Basics About TMJ Disorders and Treatments

TMJ disorders are a common problem. More than 10 million Americans deal with the pain or loss of function associated with TMJ disorders. It seems like people blame its development on many different causes and rely on a variety of treatments. So, what really causes TMJ and can it be healed?



TMJ is the abbreviation for the temporomandibular joint, which is the joint where your mandible (jawbone) meets the temporal bone of your skull on each side of your face. Temporomandibular joints are complex because they not only allow your mouth to open and close, but also to move your lower jaw from side to side and to push it forward and backward. These two joints are part of an intricate network of muscles, nerves, ligaments, discs, and bones. There are a variety of things which can go wrong and prevent this system from working properly, creating a TMJ disorder, or TMD.


There are many causes of TMJ disorders. Arthritis in the joint, an injured or dislocated jaw, or an eroded or displaced disc may be the source. However, discomfort or pain in the muscles that control your jaw may also contribute to TMD, without having any problem in the actual joint. Injuries, genetics, hormones, arthritis, misaligned bites, and chronic grinding or clenching of teeth can contribute to TMD. Certain repeated or sustained movements such as resting a phone between your shoulder and jaw, positioning your head and neck to hold a violin, and habitual gum chewing may cause you to be more susceptible to TMJ disorders. Often, there are multiple factors contributing to TMJ disorders and symptoms can begin without any obvious cause.


Common signs and symptoms include:

  • Pain or tenderness in your jaw, face, ear, or neck areas

  • Stiffness in your jaw muscles

  • Pain when chewing, biting, or yawning

  • Limited jaw movement or locking of the jaw

  • Popping, clicking, or grating in the jaw joint when opening or closing your mouth

  • Chronic headaches

It is possible to have difficulty moving your jaw, but not experience any pain. Less common symptoms may include a change in the way your upper and lower teeth fit together, facial swelling, especially near the joint, and ears that ring or feel pain or pressure.


When to seek treatment.


If your jaw makes noise but you do not have any pain, you do not need to seek treatment right away. However, it is a good idea to mention it at your next dental checkup. While TMJ disorders could make it painful to open your mouth very wide, it is still important to take good care of your teeth. If the pain is bad enough that you avoid brushing your teeth or flossing, that is probably a sign that you should get help. If the pain or tenderness persists, or you have limited movement in your jaw, you should discuss the issue with your dentist or doctor right away.


Many signs and symptoms of a TMJ disorder can also be caused by other conditions such as tooth decay, abscesses, and ear or sinus problems. So, it is best to see your doctor or dentist if you suspect you have a TMJ disorder to rule out other conditions. Additionally, since there are many factors that may contribute to TMD, we can help you determine why you developed TMD, and create an individualized treatment plan based on the cause of your pain.


Treatment Options


Although pain from TMJ disorders may seem all-encompassing, aggressive treatments are rarely necessary. In fact, many people may ease their symptoms through a variety of self-care practices. These practices include:


  • Eat soft foods and avoid sticky or chewy foods. Cut your food into small bites to minimize the need to chew.

  • Use an ice pack for 10-15 minutes. Be sure to wrap it in a cloth so it does not sit directly on your skin.

  • Use a heat pack wrapped in a warm, moist towel.

  • Avoid repetitive motions like chewing gum or biting your nails, and extreme movements like wide yawns, or loud singing or shouting.

  • Relax your jaw. If stress causes you to clench or grind, practice techniques to reduce stress.

  • Gently stretch or massage the sore area.

  • Try not to cradle the phone between your jaw and shoulder, rest your jaw against your hand, or stay in any other position that puts pressure on your jaw.

  • Over-the-counter pain medications may help. These are best for short-term use. If you find yourself relying on them, you should make an appointment with your dentist or doctor.


If your pain continues, or the symptoms are severe enough to impact your quality of life and make it difficult to do simple things like eat, talk, or brush your teeth, it is time to see a professional. We will help you determine the causes and the best course of treatment for your situation. When dental or orthodontic treatments are required, the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research recommends conservative treatment options. These treatments may include jaw strengthening exercises and stretches, prescription pain or anti-inflammatory medications or muscle relaxers, and occlusal appliances such as night mouth guards or a stabilization splint. Some people may benefit more permanent treatments, which may include adjusting or reshaping one or more teeth, or braces to correct their bite.


Splints and night guards are removable appliances that are created specifically for your mouth. A night mouth guard will help minimize nighttime grinding and clenching which causes muscle fatigue and pain. Splint therapy should improve your jaw function, reduce or eliminate temporomandibular joint and muscle pain, or recapture a displaced disc. A splint helps move your jaw into a position that relieves pressure from it and makes your bite more comfortable. There are a variety of splints which may be used, depending on the cause of your TMJ.


As anyone who has lived with a TMJ disorder knows, they can cause severe pain and reduce your quality of life. If you or anyone in your family are one of the 10 million Americans suffering from TMD we would be privileged to schedule a complimentary orthodontic consultation to discover if orthodontic treatment can help you get rid of the pain and restore your quality of life.



Call us at (480) 759-1119



At Jungle Roots Children’s Dentistry & Orthodontics, we strive to provide the highest comprehensive pediatric and orthodontic dental care in a unique, fun-filled environment staffed by a team of caring, energetic professionals. We believe the establishment of a “dental home” at an early age is the key to a lifetime of positive visits to the dentist. Ahwatukee, Phoenix



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